Challenges Filling the Majority of Job Vacancies Across Oregon

by Gail Krumenauer

July 24, 2018

At any given time in 2017, Oregon’s private businesses reported 60,700 job vacancies. They identified 38,700 (64%) of those job openings as difficult to fill. That was the largest number of difficult-to-fill vacancies reported since we began asking the question in 2013.

Difficulty Finding Workers

From Burns to Bend, Beaverton, and Brookings, more employers than not seemed to share in the challenge of meeting their current workforce needs. Businesses faced difficulty filling the majority of their vacancies in all nine broad regions of the state. The Portland Metro area reported the smallest share of difficult-to-fill vacancies at 51 percent. Meanwhile, nearly three-fourths of all job vacancies were difficult to fill in Southwestern Oregon (74%), Northwest Oregon (73%), and Clackamas County (73%).
Why Is it Difficult to Fill Vacancies?

With unemployment rates at or near record lows across the state, and payrolls continuing to expand in most areas, a lack of applicants has been a prominent reason for difficulty filling vacancies. For Oregon statewide, nearly 10,900 (or 30%) of all difficult-to-fill job vacancies either had too few or no applicants. The lack of applicants was even more pronounced in Northwest Oregon (42%), Clackamas County (41%), and the Mid-Valley (36%). The tight labor market is reflected in business responses, such as “heavy local construction” with “few available journeymen” in the Mid-Willamette Valley and candidates for manufacturing jobs “getting competing job offers” in Clackamas County.

Businesses reported a lack of qualified candidates as the second most-common reason for difficulty filling vacancies in Oregon. In this category, businesses often described a mix of specific skills and experience required for a specialized position. These types of openings accounted for 6,100 (17%) of all difficult-to-fill job vacancies statewide. In the Portland Metro area, they totaled 27 percent of all hard-to-fill vacancies. Businesses in the Portland area reported “skilled training, education, and experience” for specific medical jobs and specific experience in various types of programming in industrial applications as examples of job vacancies with a lack of qualified candidates.
Job vacancies where employers reported unfavorable working conditions – such as on-call or overnight shifts, or jobs with tough physical or environmental working conditions – made up similar shares of all hard-to-fill vacancies across regions. These accounted for 5,000 (14%) of all difficult-to-fill vacancies statewide. Businesses gave examples such as “limited hours” for personal care aide positions, “hard work” where “few remain on the job” in food processing, and “hard work in harsh weather conditions” for construction laborers and operating engineers.

A lack of soft skills accounted for 4,000 (11%) difficult-to-fill vacancies in Oregon. Regionally, businesses in Southwestern Oregon reported the largest share of difficult-to-fill vacancies where applicants lacked soft skills (17%). They specifically noted difficulty finding candidates with clear driving records for paramedic positions, issues related to “customer service attitude and work ethic” for customer service-related jobs, and the inability to pass a drug test for jobs in a variety of occupations.

The majority of difficult-to-fill job vacancies (67%) required previous work experience. Oregon employers were far less likely to report a lack of work experience as the primary reason for difficulty filling vacancies. They represented 3,200 (9%) of all difficult-to-fill job openings statewide. Portland Metro businesses had a slightly higher share of these types of vacancies, which made up 15 percent of all hard-to-fill job openings in the region. Area businesses expressed their preferences for either general or industry-specific experience across many different occupations.

The “all other reasons” category includes a collection of many less-cited challenges filling job vacancies. They include low wages, the job location, a lack of technical skills, certification, or training, the inability to find a candidate who’s the “right fit” for the job, and other miscellaneous responses. Together this collection of responses totaled 7,000 (19%) of the difficult-to-fill job vacancies. Other reasons accounted for outsized shares of the challenging job vacancies in the Eastern Oregon (35%), Lane County (33%), and East Cascades (27%) regions of the state.

Roughly one-fourth (26%) of the state’s 2,200 difficult-to-fill vacancies where businesses reported low wages for the job were found in Lane County. Fifty-nine percent of Oregon’s 750 vacancies with job location-related issues came from businesses in the East Cascades and Eastern Oregon regions. Health care represented the majority of them.

Industry Challenges

Areas east of the Cascades were not alone in their difficulty filling health care vacancies. Private health care and social assistance ranked among the top five industries by total number of difficult-to-fill vacancies in every region of the state. Construction also made the top five industries all across Oregon. Together, health care and construction accounted for almost one-third (32%) of all difficult-to-fill job vacancies statewide. Health care and construction represented two-fifths of all difficult-to-fill job openings in Eastern Oregon (40%) and Lane County (39%).
Some prominent regional industries also ranked high among sectors with the most difficult-to-fill vacancies. Leisure and hospitality was among the top industries by total difficult-to-fill vacancies in six of the state’s nine workforce areas. Northwest Oregon, which includes the North Coast along with Benton and Columbia counties, reported more hard-to-fill leisure and hospitality vacancies than any other area of the state.

Natural resources and mining – which includes farming, fishing, and forestry – ranked among the top industries with difficult-to-fill vacancies in the Mid-Willamette Valley, the Rogue Valley, and the East Cascades. These areas are home to berry farms and wine grapes, plant nurseries, cherry trees, and many other types of fruit trees.

Widely Challenging Job Vacancies by Occupation

As with industries, many occupations appeared at the top of difficult-to-fill vacancy lists across many regions. Truck drivers were notable among the most broadly difficult-to-fill occupations. They were among the top 10 in six of nine regions statewide. Many businesses commented on the lack of qualified candidates with a valid commercial driver’s license.

Personal care aides is one of the health care-related occupations that also regularly tops the list of hard-to-fill vacancies. They made the top 10 in five different regions. The most common business responses included a lack of applicants and unfavorable working conditions related to the shifts.

As the construction sector continues to outpace all others in job growth, carpenters and construction laborers have joined the occupations with the most difficult-to-fill vacancies in both metropolitan and rural areas. Businesses noted the shortage of carpenters with comments such as “they are all working” and “nobody is looking for work.” Employers experiencing difficulty filling construction laborer positions were most likely to either report a lack of applicants or unfavorable working conditions related to the job conditions.
Businesses also reported more difficulty filling vacancies concentrated in their regions. Examples of area-specific occupations in the top 10 for difficult-to-fill vacancies included fish cutters in Northwest Oregon and application software developers and couriers and messengers in the Portland Metro area. Forest and conservation workers neared the top of the list in the Rogue Valley.

Additional Information

More job vacancy information for Oregon and its nine workforce areas can be found in the Job Vacancy Survey box on the Publications Page of A full report on Oregon’s Current Workforce Gaps is also available online.


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